Bring Out Your Inner Asshole

Most of the time when afflicted by the inclination to write about some TV advertisement or other I resist, because I’m conscious of the fact that any sort of publicity for an advertised product is good publicity. But I’m going to make an exception in this case for what I think is an exceptional advert.

Friday night I was slumped in front of the TV, making a poor fist of digesting a pizza and watching the horrific crypto-Christian conservative film Nine Months, a celebration of biological determinism featuring an extravagantly foppish Hugh Grant. Watching it, I gained a deeper understanding of the potential motives for Grant’s kerb-crawling during the shooting of the film. During a break an ad for IKEA was shown.

If you haven’t seen it, the storyboard is this: palely-lit shots of a First Holy Communion procession in a rural churchyard, to the music of Make Your Own Kind Of Music by The Mamas and The Papas (or was it just Mama Cass). Both priest’s garments and girls’ communion dresses are unusually dull. As procession passes, expression on faces of proud parents turns to dismay, and girl at end of procession appears in radiant dress with bright red and black blotches, not unlike a dalmatian riddled with bullets. Cut to proud, business casual parents smiling proudly as the chorus ‘make your own kind of music/sing your own special song’ swells, and IKEA logo with caption “Bring out your inner rebel” appears.

I am a poor judge of public sentiment, since I thought that it was the sort of thing, given the spirit of the times, that would have hordes descending on IKEA to burn it to the ground, but on Bank Holiday Monday the store had to turn away aspirant shoppers. I’ve mentioned before the frequent resort to images of rebellion and insurrection to incite bouts of consumption (the activity, not the unfortunate medical condition), but this example is still worthy of consideration, because of its brazen falsity.

There were no images of furniture. But the implied message was fairly clear: the history of furniture in Ireland hitherto is the history of church domination and repression. If you want to cast off that history, buy yourself a bright new sofa. The point of most advertising of this nature, which is ultimately intended to stimulate consumer appetites, is to make people feel like shit, so that only by going out and buying whatever it is that is being sold can the appetite be sated and the buyer be restored to spiritual equilibrium.

‘Rebellion’ here is shown to have nothing to do with rejection of the prevailing order: it means resorting to a private choice available within the prevailing order. If a church-dominated society is dull and oppressive, then the remedy to it is canny consumer choice; there is nothing wrong with the basic co-ordinates of the society that a splash of colour cannot remedy. IKEA is therefore following down a trail blazed by Sunday Independent columnists.

The ad storyline reminded me of -and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in part inspired by- the Hollywood movie Little Miss Sunshine, in which a little girl performs a salacious-yet-clodhopping dance routine to a Rick James track at a beauty contest in which all the rest of the contestants give accomplished performances in line with their parents’ desires. Her performance bombs: nearly everyone, except her own family -who are well aware of the absurdity of the event-, finds the routine horrifying. But the story in Little Miss Sunshine is radically different to the IKEA ad. Whereas the family and the young girl in the film are misfits well aware of the absurdity and the stupidity of the entire event, the urbane family in the IKEA ad are fully committed to the spectacle of the First Communion procession: they just want to spruce it up a bit with their own private success story. Utterly revolting.


4 Responses to “Bring Out Your Inner Asshole”

  1. 1 Longman Oz August 5, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    A good take on it, even though it probably gives the ad execs in question a little too much intellectual credit!

    For me, this ad seems to be just another variation on the “be your own person” image that many global brands promote with no apparent sense of irony. Indeed, it all just reminds me of the group in “The Life of Brian” who chant in unison about being individuals.

    I rebel.
    You rebel.
    He rebels.
    She rebels.
    We rebel.
    You rebel.
    They rebel.

    Accordingly, aspiring to dull conventionality and wanting to be boxed in by suffocating group norms may now be the only way to beat the system. Individuality is for conformers! Being radical is to defend the status quo! Progression through regression!

    By the way, do you have the lend of a screwdriver?

  2. 2 Hugh Green August 5, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    I did worry I was giving the advertisers too much credit. That’s one of the aspects of the advertising form, though: full of empty signifiers compelling the viewer to invest with his/her own interpretation. Oh well.

    You are right to point to the sameyness of the ad. At one level, it is completely unoriginal. Again, I think this is because the basic function of these ads is nearly all the same: create an artificial need that makes people think they will feel miserable until they treat themselves by parting with their cash. I guess for me it’s just the Ireland-specific content that catches the eye.

  3. 3 David August 5, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    I like your take on it, I saw a few days ago, but just cringed and thought no more about it. On second thoughts though the church repression twist is a stroke of evil genius.

    The coffee table, night stand, beanbag buying homeowner is the target market and yet the symbol of rebellion is the child. Now I haven’t been a child for a good while now, but I remember my father having notions about not non-conformity when it came to the traditional get up for communion, which then amounted to putting an unhappy me in a pair of khaki coloured pants and a cream shirt while the rest of the kids wore black suits and white dresses. I’d suggest that if the girl in this ad had really been allowed the opportunity to rebel she might not have chosen to wear the pink dress and may have opted for her Mayo jersey, unless that is she really is a 2-dimensional cut out from an M&S advert. Which is a roundabout way of saying, the ad appears to be intimating the rebelliously dressed child is a piece of flat pack furniture the monstrous couple admiring her put together with an allen key on their balcony in the rain.

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